Main Courses: 16 posts

Tested recipes for main course dishes

Georgian Chicken Stew with Tomatoes and Herbs : Chakhokhbili

Before the tomato season ends I would like to share a recipe for chakhokhbili, a Georgian chicken stew. It’s a dish that tastes and smells of summer, and I try to make it as often as I can during the months when ripe tomatoes are available. The idea is to cook chicken with onions and towards the end add almost twice its weight in tomatoes and herbs. The tomatoes are cooked only to soften them, which gives the stew a bright, sunny flavor. Few other preparations showcase the simple ingredients–chicken and tomatoes–to such advantage. And if you haven’t cooked Georgian food before, I urge you to start with this recipe and be ready to be dazzled.

Georgia is a country of about four million people wedged between Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In my travels through Georgia it never failed to amaze me how such a small country could produce so many outstanding writers, artists, sculptors and dancers, from painter Niko Pirosmani and poet Tizian Tabidze to ballerina Nina Ananiashvili and choreographer George Balanchine. Today, however, I want to give you a taste of the famed Georgian cuisine, because it’s a heritage worthy of being enshrined by UNESCO, along with Georgia’s unique polyphonic singing.

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Summers Under The Tamarind Tree and Grilled Spicy Chicken

Picking a favorite cuisine is not easy for me. I adore the lusty Ukrainian flavors of my childhood as well as the subtle interplay of nuances of Japanese cooking. Italian dishes, especially the Abruzzo specialties I learned as a teenager living in southern Italy, are the mainstay in my repertoire, food I turn to if I don’t know what else to cook. Persian delicacies like layered rices and stewed meats are what I make when I feel like playing with colors and flavors. And the cooking of the subcontinent, especially Pakistan and India, satisfies my perfumer’s sensibilities. Diverse though the cuisines are in different parts of the countries, they give me a chance to compose a dish as I would a fragrance by building accords and creating top, heart, and base notes.

Pakistani cuisine may be less known in comparison to Indian, but it boasts a splendid variety of dishes, from grilled meats to banana leaf steamed fish, from breads perfumed with saffron to rice garnished with dried fruit and nuts. It’s both a new and an old country. Formed in 1947, Pakistan bears the imprints of civilizations that succeeded each other, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the Greeks and the Mughals. As a place where different faiths met and different people traded, fought, loved and lived, it has a varied and rich food culture. Short of visiting a Pakistani family, one way to discover it is via Sumayya Usmani’s cookbook, Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan (public library).

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Miso Grilled Salmon with Honey and Orange

As much as I love experimenting with new foods, there are times when all I want is comfort. If I’ve had a tough day and need a hug, I make a bowl of mashed potatoes with a side of cucumber salad. Or I whip up lacy crepes and eat them with plenty of sour cream and cherry jam.  These dishes are old childhood favorites, and they always make me feel better. But over the years, I’ve added a new set of comfort foods to my repertoire. They range from my mother-in-law’s Indian sour lentil soups and vegetable stews to Vietnamese grilled pork on rice. And anything made with miso immediately qualifies as comfort food.

salmon-miso1

What is it about miso that makes it so comforting? It might be its intensely savory flavor or the velvety, suave aftertaste; I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I love it. Miso paste is made by fermenting soybeans and/or other grains with salt and koji, a special starter. The result is the unique vitamin and protein rich condiment that has been used in Japan for centuries. The proportions of soybeans to other grains in the miso recipe will determine its flavor and color. There are numerous miso types, but the white (shiro) and red (aka) varieties are the most common. White miso, which is really golden yellow in hue, contains more rice than soybeans and has a mild, sweet flavor. By contrast, the soybean rich red miso is meaty, bold and salty.

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Orange Trout with Garlic, Ginger, and Sesame

When I think of orange, I usually think of desserts–a long curl of zest steeped in milk for rice pudding, a dash on top of bitter chocolate mousse or whipped into poundcake batter. By sweetening the orange, you highlight its floral, honeyed nuance, but what happens if you add a dash of salt instead? The effect is explosive. Salt volatilizes aromatic components, and the orange aroma becomes even more saturated. Moreover, its zesty flavor marries so well with savory notes that it’s fun to explore different combinations.

trout

One of my favorite piquant combinations with orange is a Korean inspired dry rub for fish. Garlic, scallions, ginger, sesame and chili pepper are used with dazzling effect in Korean cooking, giving it a distinctive flavor–earthy and aromatic, nutty and spicy. I haven’t encountered orange in Korean dishes, but its sweet perfume is a harmonious touch. It brings out the citrusy nuances of ginger and softens the toasty richness of sesame. Because of their acidity, oranges are also excellent with fish, and voilà, here is my creation.

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Indian Flattened Rice Pilaf (Poha) : Layering Flavors

My first taste of India was completely different from what I anticipated. I arrived at my friend’s apartment in Delhi, my head still aching from jet lag and the kaleidoscopic array of new sensory impressions. “You must be hungry,” said Swati, as she went into the kitchen. It was close to midnight, but the air was still hot and humid, and my shirt stuck to my back. I wasn’t hungry at all, but I still politely ate a bit of the vegetable pilaf she put in front of me. I expected it to be spicy and hot, but instead it was tart and refreshing, reminiscent more of Mediterranean tastes than anything I’ve previously experienced with Indian food. Poha was the start of my love affair with Indian layered flavors.

poha

Poha is the name for flattened rice (sometimes also referred to as beaten rice) that has been parboiled, rolled, flattened, and dried to produce easy-to-cook, nutritious flakes. It’s a Western Indian version of muesli, and it’s a common breakfast dish. Since poha is already cooked, it only requires a brief soaking to turn the thin flakes into plump grains. It absorbs liquids and flavors easily, and poha works well in soups, pilafs, salads, and even desserts. You can use it in any dish in which you would have used couscous, adjusting the cooking times accordingly.

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